My kid is a What?

Child being Bullied.When The Boy was 2 we had a series of incidents at his daycare. He had a friend that he had spent every day with since they were about 6 weeks old. This boy’s parent stopped talking to The Wife and I, and rumors started flowing around the daycare.

We eventually found out that our son had started to become friends with other kids in the class and this boy didn’t take well to that. He would cry and complain and tell his parents that our son was mean to him because our son was paying attention to other kids. This is the first time my child was ever called a bully. To my knowledge, it is the only time someone has called my child a bully. Until this past weekend. (Edit for clarification—as Liz and Jay point out in the comments, and I agree, the use of the term bully in response to my child’s behavior in this incident is a misuse of the term. I do believe it is used appropriately in the events below.)

I think some people may not realize when they’re bullying someone. Here’s a hint — if you wouldn’t like someone doing to you what you’re doing to them, you’re being a bully. – Chris Kluwe

What happened? I’m glad you asked. Because I was going to tell you anyway. Last Saturday The Little One drew this awesome picture.

The original boat drawing

A pretty nice boat for a 5-yr old don’t ya think?

I was so proud of him that I posted the picture to my twitter and Facebook feeds. It’s pretty good for a kid who won’t be six for another couple of months. Everything was going well until Sunday morning when I hear this exchange:

The Boy: I don’t care! I don’t want to be part of it!

Little one: I spent a lot of time on that!

Then came the yelling and crying. This is what I found when I went to look:

The defaced boat.

He took himself out of the picture.

Here’s a side by side to make the change easier to see.

Side by side of images

I mean, on one hand, kinda funny, but on the other, this was mean and petty.

I sat my son down and explained to him what he had done. He was deliberately doing something to make his brother feel bad. He was bullying him. The Boy was shocked. He cried. He apologized. He offered to redraw himself.

Eventually everyone calmed down and we had a discussion about it. This is when I realized that he bullies his brother a lot. Sometimes we call it big brothering, but it boils down to being bossy, or mean, or not inclusive, or any number of other things that are typical sibling behaviors. Now that we are aware of it, we are trying to create a plan to help him avoid these behaviors. But it’s hard. These are typical ways for a big brother to behave when he is tired of his little brother following him around. I surely treated my brother this way. I’m sure my dad’s brother treated him this way. And so on, back to the earliest brothers in our line. I mean, didn’t one of Adam’s children do unspeakable things to the other in the book of Genesis?

So, as with most things in our family, I turned to books. I tried to come up with some non-typical bullying books that he might share with his brother so they can continue to talk about this topic. Here is my short list, links go to the Goodreads page for each book. Please add your own in the comments below.

THE RECESS QUEEN by Alexis O’Neill, ill. by Laura Huliska-Beith
BOSSY BEAR by David Horvath
SAM AND THE BIG KIDS by Emily Arnold McCully
ONE by Kathryn Otoshi


  1. Liz on June 26, 2013 at 8:01 am

    I think that we, as a society, have gotten a little too quick to label children or behaviors as “bullying.” Don’t you think it is important to draw a solid and very clear line between UNKIND behaviors and BULLYING behaviors? Otherwise, according to most school policies, every single child stands the random chance of being suspended or having major discipline based on an unkind choice if it is reported by an angry mama bear out there somewhere.

    Is it really fair to say that your boy was being a bully just because he made new friends? Getting your feelings hurt is a part of life–I think it is important for kids to learn to handle those kinds of feelings. Don’t get me wrong: I believe that teaching our children about the power of their choices and the impact that these choices can have on others is very very very important! I want my children and my students to be kind-hearted and take the feelings of others to heart. I want them to make kind choices and I want them to learn to apologize when they inadvertently hurt someone. But playing with new friends can not be “bullying.” Don’t you think it is important that our kids will be able to learn to evaluate friendships and make healthy choices about who to spend time with and who NOT to spend time with? I do, because I feel that we become who we spend time with.

    For me (and per my school district’s definition), bullying is repeated unwanted/aggressive behavior that involves a (real/perceived) power imbalance. This seems to be a little more fair definition to me–it happens over and over and is purposefully mean. When we were kids, being called a “bully” was a serious matter, but now if you are called a “bully” it is almost a legal term that can land you in some hot, hot water and follow you for a long time. As we watch the pendulum swing on this issue, I think it is so important that we keep a clear line between bullying and unkindness. It just breaks my heart to think of such a sweet little boy being called a “bully.”

    • Adam on June 26, 2013 at 11:13 am

      Hi Liz:
      A great comment. I agree that, especially now when bullying is a hot topic, we tend to label everyone as a bully to easily. It reminds me of a while back when any kid with energy was being labeled ADD/ADHD. I also agree that in the first incidence of him being called a bully, it was an inappropriate use of the term. Making new friends, or 1 inadvertent action that causes hurt should not be considered bullying. I really like the definition that your district provided.
      Bullying is repeated unwanted/aggressive behavior that involves a (real/perceived) power imbalance.
      This is exactly the type of situation that I believe happens in an older sibling/younger sibling relationship. There are small daily incidences that get overlooked because they are seen at a micro level, one at a time. When we looked at the situation on a macro level, we noticed that it was a repeated pattern of behavior. This otherwise wonderful child, was in fact, repeatedly behaving in an unwanted, aggressive, or overly bossy way to his brother.
      Now, some of these issues are my own fault. I let him help ‘parent’ his brother. The Little One needs a lot of direction. You know how artsy kids can be. He’d lose his head if it wasn’t attached. But this will need to change. As an elder sibling myself, I don’t often side with The Little One, but I think that he deserves some protection here.
      Thanks for the great addition to the discussion.

  2. Mom on June 26, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Talk about proud!!! This post is amazing and an incredible gift to all who read it. I am kvelling!
    Some wise woman said, “it doesn’t matter how you get there; as long as you get there.”
    You are THERE!

  3. WoolyBully on June 26, 2013 at 11:12 am

    I seriously applaud your candor in your family-focused posts. I don’t think I’d have the cojones to be so open about the ups and downs my little group has.

    And a great topic. But I’m concerned that the term “bully” might be starting to be applied a bit too broadly. Once that happens, it loses its power as a definition of truly troublesome and undesirable behavior. If we define bullying activity as basically anything that makes someone else upset, then what do we call the hardcore intimidation, abuse, or undue influence of another person by use of superior power or position?

    Your daycare anecdote, I think, illustrates this somewhat. It sounds like your son basically got tired of a kid he didn’t like and moved on to make friends with others. Happens. Happens as adults, too, but I have a hard time equating that behavior with actively trying to hurt someone’s feelings. I think I would have definitely taken issue with the teacher or other parent who used that highly charged word on my kid in that particular situation.

    Now, that’s not to say that otherwise great kids don’t sometimes exhibit behaviors that could turn into bullying, left unchecked, and we as parents need to be vigilant that that does not happen — your sibling story as the example. But maybe we, as the current parental generation of single-digit-age children, need to agree to be judicious with our diagnoses. It would be a bad thing if “bully” became this decade’s ADD.

    Because the next time my kid doesn’t want to sit next to you in the cafeteria, I don’t want the federally funded Pennsylvania State Anti-Bullying Task Force and Unicorn Squad (PaSABTFUS) hauling her in for questioning!

    • Adam on June 26, 2013 at 11:33 am

      I am sure the kids will hate me for this stuff later, but they haven’t subscribed to the blog yet, so they aren’t keyed in to how their lives are aired to the world. Thanks for the comment. I agree, as I responded to Liz’s comment above, that the term bully is becoming the ADD/ADHD of the time period. And I do not think his behavior at the day care warranted the use of this term. But I do think his behavior towards his brother does. As I am sure mine did towards my brother when we were younger.

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